Virginia Senate Passes Bill That Will Effectively Turns Cops into Secret Police

secret-policeBy Clarice Palmer

In the United States, the Fourth Estate, also known as the Fourth Power or the fourth branch of government, has always been a popular label for the media’s role in a free society. But in the state of Virginia, legislators want to remove that power from the press by shielding police officers from public scrutiny.

Senate Bill 552, which has already been approved by the Senate, hopes to classify the names of all local police officers and fire marshals as “personnel records,” shielding these individuals from the responsibility of dealing with public backlash in the case that something goes awry.

The bill, the Washington Post reports, was proposed as a response to an incident involving the the press, and the names of police officers considered too problematic to stay in their positions:

It started with a reporter’s attempt to learn whether problem police officers were moving from department to department. It resulted in legislation that is again bringing national scrutiny to the Virginia General Assembly: a bill that could keep all Virginia police officers’ names secret.

The Virginia House, which is dominated by Republican lawmakers, is considering a review of the bill starting this Thursday. So far, Governor Terry McAuliffe has not taken a side, the Post notes.

Two civil rights groups that oppose S.B. 552 say the bill goes too far, proposing less transparency at a time when the pressure to hold police officers accountable for their actions has ignited a growing movement demanding reform.

If the bill is signed into law they fear it will represent an unprecedented move, opening the door for other states to follow suit.

Supporters of the bill argue that officers and deputies could be at risk if their names are handed to the press. Despite a lack of evidence that the effort to target police officers is becoming popular in the country, Virginia lawmakers, like Republican Senator John Cosgrove, claim S.B. 552 will restore “a healthy respect for law enforcement” — something the senator says he seldom sees.

“Now,” Cosgrove says, “[police officers have] become targets of opportunity.”

Both the Fraternal Order of Police and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police worked on the bill with Cosgrove, which might explain the wording of the legislation.

According to the Post, opponents of the bill in the Senate — like Senator Chap Petersen, a Democrat from Fairfax — say the withholding of officer names will increase the occurrence of corruption within agencies.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, also offered harsh words about the bill. According to Rhyne, police officers are paid by the public, so they “don’t get to do that in secret,” referring to the fact that the bill would also keep officer training information off the record. In her blog, she explained the position of her organization. SB 552 would “exempt from disclosure any information about salary — including name, position and job classification — for anyone in law enforcement,” she wrote.

To Rhyne, the House should not consider the bill because it “eliminate[s] the ability of the public to see how departments are organized, whether the number of employed persons falls within their spending and safety priorities.”

She continued:

It’s like a secret police force. A police force the public must pay for, but a police force the public is not entitled to look at with any scrutiny.

Governor McAuliffe’s office reportedly hasn’t confirmed whether he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk. In the past, however, the Democrat has “sided with law enforcement over civil liberties advocates.” Last year, he vetoed a bill written to limit the time officers may hold onto information tied to license plate readers.

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8 Comments on "Virginia Senate Passes Bill That Will Effectively Turns Cops into Secret Police"

  1. We don’t pay salaries to anonymous people who may or may not exist. What a great way to create a black hole budget.

  2. This statement (It’s like a secret police force. A police force the public must pay for, but a police force the public is not entitled to look at with any scrutiny.) explains every alphabet agency that is associated with local, state and federal government. That certainly does not make this news a ‘first’ – or right – but certainly shows consistency of tyrannical rule.

  3. TREASON! Impeachable.

    • This issue is best served by citizens in concert with their state elected legislatures. They have taken a oath to defend you and are available to meet by appointment; many of them probably know you on a personal basis. If not, you are responsible to make the first effort to meet them. They are your fellow citizens and by choice your servants. They have a valid historical reason to act; witness Ferguson Mo.when the fourth estate became the fifth column and posted the address of the officer in the Brown shooting, The officer carried no guilt whatsoever, being supported by eye witness and crime scene evidence, a grand jury and further findings. That was not how it was reported! This evil is owned by outsiders. Put your trust in God, and the Constitution.

      • Didn’t ask for a sermon. The only thing that should be preached is the Gospel. I disagree with most of what you said. It’s time for all good, true christians to put on the armor of God and fight back with the truth of His Word. I’m not your enemy. Preach to them.

        • Marlene, this was not directed at You. The trend of the discussion was to malign the Virginia Legislature. I live in Missouri and here we have a open door policy where the citizens are welcome to interact with those that are our representatives. The Ferguson riots were from paid out of states activists, California and Illinois played a big part in it; they demanded their pay from George Sorows, and this was covered by St.Louis papers. Have You ever heard ” Let no crisis go to waste” They were here too! When I was a Child
          In school every morning it was God and The Flag; in the service I took the oath to defend the Constitution.

        • I agree…

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